Rucheli's Writings

Readings, Ramblings, and Religious Rantings

!!הבקעה בעברית (Breakthrough in Hebrew!!) October 20, 2010

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The Building Blocks of Hebrew

“Communication is key.” We hear that over and over and over again in every context… relationships, family time, politics, etc. So what happens when communication is impossible? What do you do when you find yourself (or put yourself) in a foreign country where the language could not be more different from your native tongue? How do you communicate?

Unless you want to stick to a game of charades the entire time you’re there, you have no choice but to learn the language.

It’s not easy, especially when there are sounds that don’t exist in English, practically every word is conjugated as male or female including the numbers, and you really don’t even have much time that you can set aside to studying the language. Now add in the fact that you are expected to be able to read and translate writings from Hebrew into coherent English sentences on an hourly basis, and the frustration can make you crack. Thank G-d, today marks a huge breakthrough for me… one that will (G-d willing) alleviate much of the anxiety I’ve been having in classes so far this semester… (more…)


Tuning Our Lives October 18, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 9:20 pm
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The Piano Tuner

Every once in a while, a person wanders into your life that has the ability to make you completely reevaluate your priorities. Sometimes it’s a person that you end up being life-long friends with, but often times it’s a complete stranger. No matter who it is, it will always catch you by surprise.

During class a few days ago, a man literally stumbled into my life. He walked through the door of the Beis Medrash at Mayanot with a very specific job to do… we have quite a few musicians among us and our piano was incredibly out of tune. And this man was here to fix it. But there was something incredibly odd about this man and his circumstantial timing…

Before I explain, it’s important to know that at the time of this story, a class was in process that was discussing a concept called “Nissayon.” While there is no direct translation from Hebrew, the closest we can get to an English equivalent is a challenge or a test from Hashem. The shoresh, or grammatical root, of the word is “Nes”, which means a flag-post or sign. What purposes does a nes serve? There are two main functions: 1) something that can be raised up high and 2) something for other people to see. The sages teach us that a nissayon serves the same two purposes.

Every time we are challenged by G-d, no matter how difficult or overwhelming it might be, it is actually considered a chessed, or kindness, from Him. This doesn’t really make sense at first look. How could us getting very sick (G-d forbid) qualify as a kindness? We’re taught that these tests are placed in front of us so that we pray to Hashem, an act that actually raises our souls to higher levels of G-dliness. When we recover or overcome these challenges, we are spiritually stronger than we were before, a gift from G-d.

Additionally, a nisssayon serves as something for other people to see. It’s unfortunate, but many times it takes something awful happening to the people around us for us to realize how precious life is… Your best friend’s father passes away at an early age (G-d forbid) and you treasure your parents so much more. Your coworker gets divorced and you treasure your spouse so much more. A family member spends a significant amount of time sick (G-d forbid) and we finally start getting check-ups at the doctor regularly. These are horribly trying challenges for those suffering through the pain, but for everyone else the nissayon serves as a sign from Hashem, a nudge in the right direction.

It was during this conversation that the piano tuner opened the door and walked into the room… and he proceeded to walk straight into the air-conditioning unit sticking out of the wall at shin-level. He continued to stumble into the room before Chaim, our grounds-keeper, walked into the room to guide him. After a few seconds of being dumbfounded, we all realized at the exact same moment that this man was completely blind. We watched in complete awe as this walking “nes” entered our lives at the exact moment that we were learning the meanings, reasons, and results of a nissayon.

As he slowly moved his hands along the side of the piano, feeling for the bolt that would unlock the lid and let him access the strings of our piano, a feeling of complete awe entered the room. Sight is a function that we consider so autonomous that we completely take it for granted, but this living sign from G-d made us all rethink the wonders of our daily lives. But this wonder at our own lives only lasted a few minutes, because before long the piano tuner was plucking at the strings and making minute adjustments, feeling his way between the different notes and remembering what tools were placed where in his bag. And then our view of this nissayon as a sign to ourselves transformed right before our ears into a display of an aliyah, a rising up of the soul. This man had not only overcome the pain of this immense challenge, but he had used it as a springboard to succeeding in life. He had used his sense of hearing, his compensation for his loss of sight, as a means of making a living. Not only was he living and surviving, but he was thriving, evidently as one of the best instrumental technicians in central Israel.

The lesson we learned from this ordinary man facing this immense nissayon is one that will stay with me forever. It made this foreign concept that we were learning into a relevant concept; it brought the words of the Torah and our sages to life literally before our eyes. If that isn’t a sign from Hashem, I don’t know what is…


Urban Exploration: Lifta

Filed under: My Blog,Photos,Travel — rucheli @ 3:58 am
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Urban Exploration, or UrbEx, is defined (in Wikipedia) as “the examination of the normally unseen or off-limits parts of urban areas or industrial facilities.” Well today I had the opportunity to join the ranks of photographers and adventure hungry people that partake in such an odd hobby. And it was amazing.

Last night my friend Talia and I were discussing how we really needed to go on a photo-hunt sometime soon, and I had heard of a place named Lifta that was supposed to be easy to get to and amazing to explore. So we were thinking about skipping our Sunday afternoon class at some point in the next few weeks to head out for a few hours… Lo and behold, this morning our Rosh Yeshiva came in and told us that our afternoon teacher was not feeling well (refuah shleimah) and that we wouldn’t be having class at all between 1:30pm and 7:30pm… In Judaism we call that Hashgacha Pratis, or Divine Providence. Perfect 🙂

Right after classes and a quick lunch, Talia and I caught the bus to Tachana Merkazit (the central bus station). From there we walked across the street, behind a sketchy gas station and down a dirt path until we got to a spiral bridge that led to another dirt path… Within 10 minutes we had reached the edge of Lifta, an abandoned Arab settlement that was evacuated during the 1948 War for Independence. With the exception of some hippy-ish squatters that have settled into a few of the buildings that are more intact, the entire town remains in a state of ruin, untouched since the war. There are about a hundred stone houses and buildings that are scattered across the mountain side. Some are easy to reach and some take a little more creativity, but as a whole it was a great first exploration trip. It had a little bit of everything… crazy people, buildings with the floors blown clear out by rockets, houses filled with trash from the local squatters, a mikvah, water tunnels, stone paths overgrown by nature; you name it, it was there somewhere.

Talia and I explored for a few hours until it started to get dark and our reason got the best of us. Although we saw a lot of the area, we will definitely be taking another trip in the coming weeks. And next time we’ll have better flashlights so we can see where those tunnels really lead to… Until then, here are some photos of our trip:


Best of Lifta

Overlooking Lifta




“Go to Yourself” October 16, 2010

Filed under: My Blog — rucheli @ 8:14 pm
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The Crossroads of Lech Lecha

This week was our first full week back to class here at Mayanot… and all of us here agree that it was a FULL week. After being on vacation for 3 weeks, your brain starts to get a little out of shape and then all of a sudden your back in class from 7:30 am to 9pm for 5 days a week and you end up extremely overwhelmed on a mental level. Not only that, but a lot of us entered into this Shabbos emotionally overstimulated also. I think many of us are just starting to figure out just how far we still have to go until we figure out who we really are and what path Hashem wants us to take in our lives. And as if that wasn’t stressful enough, most of us feel as if we’re anywhere from 18 to 29 years late to the ballgame…

And then comes Parshas Lech Lecha, the Torah portion that was read in shul this morning. In the very beginning of the parshah, what happens? Hashem tells Avram [at the age of 75!!!] to begin his journey… So if we’re in our mid-20s, it turns out we’re actually half a century early, nothing to worry about 😉

Now granted, it’s not as if Avram did nothing for the first 75 years of his life… but not until this parshah do we really hear about him because this is the first time he does something strictly to have a relationship with Hashem. What did he do? He left! He picked up his entire family and left his land, his birthplace, and his father’s home and he went “south” towards Yerushalayim, towards the very place that I’m lucky enough to be spending my year in right now. And when Avram got here, he was able to serve Hashem better than he ever had before. This is the Holy Land after all, and the connection to G-d here make it so much easier to engage ourselves and those around is in the holiness of serving Hashem.

But after just one year in Israel, what happens? Famine hits the land and Avram is forced to leave. He has to head south to Mitzrayim, to Egypt, where he has to deal with trials and tribulations as crazy as his wife being kidnapped and taken to Pharaoh. Why?! All Avram wanted to do was serve G-d, to be in the holy land and spread the name of Hashem! What sense does it make to leave?

But just as Avram had to leave Eretz Yisrael and go down to Mitzrayim, so to will I (and all of the other girls here at Mayanot) eventually have to leave Yerushalayim and head back out into the world. But Parshas Lech Lecha isn’t just a set of traveling instructions for Avram… the Rebbe teaches us that it is actually a lesson to all Jews on how we should live our lives. When Avram went to Israel, he learned how to serve Hashem better than when he was still at home. But in order to really fulfill his true potential, in order to merit the name change and become the Avraham that we all know and love, he had to first leave the holy land and go wherever Hashem took him. When G-d told him to begin his journey, He didn’t just say Lech (Go), He said Lech LECHA (Go to YOURSELF), and all throughout his journeys both in and outside of Israel, Avraham found ways to return to who he truly was: a soul who wants to serve Hashem.

Even though I’ll have to eventually leave this holy place, Parshas Lech Lecha teaches us that no matter where we go or what we do in life, we can do it in a way that helps us go to ourselves, to connect to who we are on an essential level. And when we are able to really understand that even the physicality of our world can be used in a holy way during our journey of Lech Lecha, then we will be able to follow in Avraham’s footsteps and return BACK to Yerushalayim with the coming of Moshiach, may it be soon!!

Gute voch, shavua tov, may you all have a happy and healthy week as you continue on your journey to yourself 🙂

[This was my Dvar Torah this Shabbos as said to the Mayanot family and staff 🙂 Hope you enjoyed!]


The Reverse Akeidah October 14, 2010

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“Would you be able to…”

The host of a meal that I attended during Rosh HaShanah this year added his own twist to the standard introduction rounds. “Go around the table and I want everyone to say your name, where you’re from, and whether or not you would have been able to sacrifice your only son on G-d’s altar.”

I’ve gotten used to being asked tough questions at a Shabbos or Yom Tov table, and sometimes even being forced into an impromptu shpiel on this weeks Torah portion (i.e. “D’var Torah”), but even looking back this question still catches me off-guard. What’s the “right answer” here?

Yes? — How could you be so heartless?!
No? — What, you don’t believe that everything Hashem does is for the best?!
I don’t know? — You’re learning Torah full-time, how could you not know the answer to a simple yes or no question?!

As the question worked it’s way around the table, I entered a mild state of panic. I was being coerced into exposing my very principles in front of a room full of 65 other people (it was a huge house), and I had no idea what answer would fly out of my open mouth when it was my turn. When the spotlight was finally shining on me and I was blinded like a deer in headlights, I heard someone that sounded a lot like me answer, “Hi, my name is Rucheli, I’m from Florida, and I hope that I would have the strength to do whatever Hashem asks of me in my life.” I breathed a sigh of relief. It was a dry, safe answer… Well done, subconsciousness, well done. Another moral disaster was averted and the rest of the High Holidays carried on without incident.

Setting the Stage

Both fortunately and unfortunately, when you are spending time in an institute of higher Torah learning (yeshiva or seminary, etc), the things that bother you are never allowed to fall to the wayside and be buried by the passing sands of time. And while I can’t speak for other places, the teachers here at Mayanot are incredibly adept at digging out the skeletons of our spiritual closets and making us examine every aspect of our lives from the viewpoint of Torah and Mitzvot.

Clearly, my attempt at forgetting my Rosh HaShanah dilemma was a hopelessly futile one. (more…)


Shabbos with the Schroeders October 11, 2010

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This weekend was the clash of the titans… Science vs Religion, acted out in a single Shabbos dinner. The setting was an unassuming house just a few blocks from Mayanot, at the home of Dr. Gerald Schroeder and his wife Barbara. While much of the battle was acted out in books that filled his shelves (and mine as well), it was one of the only places in the world where you will hear an observant Jew speak about dinosaurs and evolution at the Shabbos table.

Dr. Schroeder is a personal hero of mine, and if I can follow in his footsteps even a little bit, that would be the culmination of my entire life up until this point. He has his PhD in physics from MIT and has studied Torah for decades, but most impressively he managed to combine the two into a series of books that transforms any preconceived notions about both science and religion of anyone with an open mind.

As an engineer and a born-and-bred scientist, the most difficult part of becoming observant was figuring out what to do with my 18 years of education in the laws of nature. After much bashing of my own ego and humbling of my own intellect, I was able to understand that with our all powerful G-d, anything is truly possible. This doesn’t mean that I resorted to the literally biblical translation of Genesis, with no big-bang, no dinosaurs, and no cavemen. I did have a huge paradigm shift though, and it wasn’t long before I was searching for ways that G-d’s biblical creation and His scientific creation told the same story…

The answers lie in quantum physics.

For anyone unfamiliar with the scientific concepts, I can’t currently explain exactly how it works. But Dr. Schroeder has done a good job of expounding on those same thoughts for those with at least a preliminary understanding of both general relativity and the biblical account of creation. If you’re interested, I encourage you to read at least this article on his website, and if it’s your speed then please by all means, by one of his books 🙂

The fact that I was able to spend a Shabbos dinner with Dr. Schroeder was unreal. Add to that the fact that he was one of the cutest grandfatherly men I have ever met, and that his wife cooks amazing food, and it made for quite the enjoyable evening. On top of that, his son-in-law is the best Jazz composer in Israel (Daniel Zamir), and his wife is the public face of Hadassah International. We were dining in the presence of greatness!

Unfortunately the environment of the meal wasn’t conducive to intellectual conversations… There was a group of about 15 kids right out of high school that were visiting for the Young Judea Year-Course program, so it was never really quiet enough to speak of anything too serious. Dr. Schroeder did however speak a little bit about Carl Sagan and the Cosmos, as well as the verse in creation that speaks of pterodactyls… Yes, you read correctly 😉

I did manage to stop Dr. Schroeder on our way out the door to thank him for having us (myself, Irina my roomie, and Ariela, the other engineer at Mayanot) over for dinner. I also told him that I would really like to keep in touch with I’d like! I can’t wait… as soon as I finish reading his books, you can bet that I will be right back over!


Five Beautiful Reasons the Israeli Government Should Never Give Up the Golan Heights October 8, 2010

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Nahal Yehudiya - Golan Heights, Israel

Due to my personal principles as an engineer, I usually refrain from involving myself in social sciences. Especially politics. However, this year I’ve found myself in a place and a situation where abstaining from politics is impossible. In a country constantly pummeled for its stubbornness in the “peace process”, one is forced to take a stance. My stance is for Israel.

As a country, we’ve already given up HALF of our land from the 1967 war in efforts to bring about peace. It didn’t help at all. So now we’re in peace talks again and Netanyahu keeps talking about giving up more land, including the area called the Golan Heights. This chunk of land in the northern tip of Israel has constantly been argued over, and has been subjugated to attacks and power struggles since the dawn of time. But the fact is that it’s OUR land, and we can’t give it up. And for all of you wondering what the big deal is, I have one suggestion. Go there.

I spent two days in the Yehudiya area of the Golan Heights. It’s about as deep into the Golan as you can go, and it’s 150% worth the trip. We caught a bus to Tiberias Sunday afternoon and after exploring the Sea of Galilee for a few hours, we took another 45 minute bus ride up to Nahal Yehudiya Campgrounds. We got there just in time for sunset and spent the next 24 hours basking in G-d’s glory. The views were amazing, the sunset was heavenly, the hike was one of the most challenging I’ve been on but was by far the most rewarding. Tumbling waterfalls, gorgeous cliffs, deserted village ruins, and a chilly swim across a natural pool all contributed to the best day of my time is Israel thus far. The result was a newfound appreciation for this area of Israel that we are constantly challenged over, and the realization that we can never, ever, give this land up. That being said, I am please two present five incredibly beautiful reasons that the Israeli government should continue defending our right to the Golan Heights:

Favorites from Yehudiah

5) It's the same land our Fathers inherited thousands of years ago.(View of Yehudiya Valley from the top of the hike)